How to be a better person? # 12

KNOWING MYSELF

Socrates, an Athenian philosopher 400 B.C., was of the opinion that people in power did not want the public to think for themselves. His idea was that before we can be someone, we must know ourselves. The truth then, and still is today, that when we do not use our brain, we become like sheep that depend totally on shepherds. Good shepherds will teach us to use our minds and bad shepherds will demand that we trust theirs. A good leader, like the Apostle Peter, urged his followers to acquire knowledge to uphold their faith or their attitude (II Pe.1:5-6). To be a better person, I must know myself. That means, I must use my head and determine what I am capable of. How and on what do I build my life, my personality or my attitude (Mt.7:24-27)? To start with, I had to determine not to remain content with what an accident and circumstances were turning me into. I refused to resign myself to a life that depended totally on others. Particularly, the idea that God had a hand and purpose in my fated destiny was difficult to deal with. Neither could I follow anyone’s theory or guidance. There were no shoes I could fit in but my own. I had to dig into myself and try to find the knowledge that I could use to better my lot and myself. I did not uncover my ability to rebuild my life instantly. It was a gradual but productive improvement in dealing with myself. The most remarkable sign was that I became better, rather than bitter.

How much is there that I should know about myself? Perhaps, it is not so much what I know but what I can do with what I know? What good would it have been if I gain the wisdom of the world; yet, I could not improve my own little self (Mt.16:26)? We are in awe of people with knowledge and fail to see that no one knows all we ought to know (I Cor. 8:2) and that at best, we know only bits (I Cor.13:12). Ultimate knowledge remains a matter of speculation and has led us to baseless assumptions and theories that have interfered, and still do, with understanding ourselves. In my final attempt to gain the highest degree in theology, I wrote a dissertation of more than 400 pages, based on 150 experts but one examiner rejected it because it did not represent me. Of course, I was angry and upset and so was my wife that had typed the thesis. We did write another one based on my findings and the same examiner acknowledged my efforts, even without agreeing with my conclusions. He taught me that I could depend on myself without the input from people that were considered authorities in theology. In the process, I learned that general agreement among like-minded people could not always be substantiated. For instance, most Christian leaders regard grace as an unconditional gift of God. It is an appealing public concept and I did endorse it for a long time. When I retired and had more time on my hands to compare my former views with the Bible, I realized that grace was God’s reward for becoming a better and more useful person in His kingdom (Eph.2: 10). People under grace stop embarrassing God and themselves (Ro.6:1-4). People that persist in sinning do not have access to the kingdom; but, those that do the will of God do (Mt.7:21-23). My evidence that I am a follower of Jesus as my Savior rests in the fact that I am doing what He has commanded me to do (Jn.8:31; 15:14). There is absolutely no doubt in my mind that I need God’s grace more than anything. And it is for that reason that I must do all that is within me not to shame “the Spirit of grace” (Heb.10:26-31). This has been the most serious lack of knowledge.

Ultimately, it does not matter how much general knowledge we gain, but the kind that gets us where we are going and where we must go all alone. It is that which is within us that must concur with what is without us. For that reason, I have become very suspicious of views that come from others but Jesus. With regard to my eternal destiny, I trust no one but Jesus, the Christ. Like Peter long ago, I too ask myself, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We believe and know that you are the Holy One of God” (Jn.6:68). The emphasis is on my knowing and not on my guessing or thinking or even believing that Jesus is “the way, the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father but by me” (Jn.14:6). It is that desire to please Jesus that motivates me to become a better person. And the more I know about myself, the more efficiently I can serve my Lord by serving my fellowman. Before I retired, during the past twenty years and after that examiner urged me to dig into myself, I preached only on Christ on Sunday mornings. All the other contributors in the Bible were merely witness to the only name whereby we can be saved. These concurred with my preaching (Ac.4:12). It has to be a lack or an omission of knowledge that we hear more about Jesus’ witnesses than about our Lord in our churches.

My life is all about me and yours is all about you. We are responsible for knowing who we are, why we are here, and where we are going. No one can do it for us. To follow Jesus’ advice for it is the way we structure our life here on earth that will be received or rejected by heaven. If we cannot better ourselves and improve our relationships with each other here on earth, how could we possibly presume that we would make out in heaven? Jesus told His disciples that they had to do God’s will on earth as it is being done in heaven. They were to live kingdom-like on earth for that was like being in heaven (Mt.6:10). By following Jesus’ teachings, we can have a taste of heaven here on earth. Again, that knowledge is being withheld from us. God’s kingdom is in the world now (Mk.1:15). Heaven has no need for a kingdom. It is so small that it can live within us (Lk.17:21). We learn to practice the presence of Christ here on earth long before we get to heaven. That knowledge can find its way into our hearts. Walt Whitman had it in his “Song of the Open Road:” 
“Wisdom is not finally tested in the schools, 
Wisdom cannot be pass’d from one having it
to another not having it, 
Wisdom is of the soul, is not susceptible 
of proof, is its own proof” (Wa.2390).